Clipper Staff Writer
CENTERVILLE – Half the humor of a joke comes from the way it’s told, from knowing exactly what word to emphasize and just the right place to pause.
A cast that excels at doing both may be the best thing about CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s delightful, “All Shook Up,” running now through Aug. 4. A loose mash-up of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and the music of Elvis Presley, this light, sweet and funny musical is buoyed along by a cheerful sense of absurdity and a cast that knows how to deliver a witty one-liner.
The show, which focuses on a charming drifter wandering into a small, repressed Southern town and sparking several romantic entanglements, has boiled Shakespeare’s contribution down to some of his favorite romantic comedy devices. They’re all there, from a daisy chain of people smitten with the wrong person to a woman cross-dressing as a man to get closer to her sweetheart. The gender confusion resulting from that cross-dressing seems to be a little more dramatic than it ever was in the originals, but based on the audience’s response, it stayed on the comic side of things.
The only difference is the language isn’t as pretty as the Bard’s, and the characters pour out their feelings in song format. Not all the songs are Elvis’s, but fans of the King don’t have anything to be afraid of in the production’s catchy and heartfelt renditions.
As part of the Monday night opening cast, Jake Taylor’s perfromance as the charming drifter Chad had just enough drollness and innocent thickheadedness to make the character sweet rather than dully one-note. He also handled Elvis’s songs surprisingly well for someone who isn’t actually Elvis, and had a way with a hip shake that could probably induce some swooning under the right circumstances.
Chantelle Bender’s Sylvia had just the right amount of sarcasm as the voice of sensible people everywhere, and Brooke Mortensen’s glow as young Lorraine felt genuine enough to keep her love story from getting lost in the shuffle. Melissa Cecala’s Sandra had a powerhouse voice and a smooth refinement that was reflected in everything from the arch of her eyebrow to the precision of her witty repartee.
It was Austin Singley, however, who threatened to run away with my heart completely. As Dennis, a future dental school-attendee who is hopelessly in love with his best friend Natalie, Singley has an excellent sense of comic timing and a clown’s willingness to throw his entire face and body into whatever emotion he’s feeling.
The biggest laughs of the night came from him in a bit about some advice a cousin gave him, and he landed the impression with the precision of a gold medal-winning gymnast.
He balances all that with an emotional transparency and a depth of feeling that made me sniffle. Everything Dennis feels is written across his face in big block letters, and when his heart gets broken, it’s hard not to go up on stage and hug him yourself. It almost threatened to skew my response to the play, since I started caring about Dennis more than some of the other characters with more stage time.
What can I say? I love a man who knows how to tell a joke.